Summer means festival season and this year The Governors Ball Music Festival on Randall’s Island in New York City has an interesting lineup with a variety of artists from different genres. Many of the bands playing this year are quite new, having formed and released a debut album in just a few short years. One of these fresh, new bands include The Rubens, a four-piece from a tiny town just an hour south of Sydney. Comprised of three brothers Sam, Elliott and Zaac Margin and their friend, Scott Baldwin, The Rubens shot to national prominence in Australia after they debuted on Triple J’s Unearthed radio station and their single “Lay It Down”, was voted #57 most favorite track on Triple J’s Hottest 100 in 2011.
The Rubens recently celebrated only its second anniversary, having formed in early 2011. After receiving positive reviews on their Triple J debut, the band managed to snag the attention of American producer, David Kahne, known for his work with artists such as The Strokes, Paul McCartney and Regina Spektor. Their eponymous debut album was released in 2012 and was recorded in New York City. Released through Ivy League Records, an Australian record label based in Sydney and home to artists like Alpine and Sparkadia, the album saw national success, peaking at #3 on Australian album charts and getting a gold certification from the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA).
Sam Margin, lead vocalist and songwriter, stands out with his undeniably soulful, simmering voice. On their official first single, “My Gun,” Margin’s unblemished voice glides through the track, carried by his bandmates strong instrumentals. With a steady, uncomplicated drum line and a catchy electric organ line that unifies the track, “My Gun” rightfully represents the bluesy rock sounds this band has skillfully created. It’s no wonder that The Rubens have been heavily compared to The Black Keys, a band that has greatly influenced them and one they opened for in New Zealand.
Another stand-out track is “Never Be the Same,” marked by a wistful piano line and Margin’s detailed vocals, his range showing more on this track as he flits up to the higher reaches of his range. It’s a carefully optimistic song and though it isn’t lyrically complex, the powerful, layered instrumentals more than make up for it. The instrumental break in the middle shifts the pace of the song, going from cautious to confident, guitars and hi-hats ablaze. Music and lyrics fit together as the progression of instrumentals matches Margin’s words: “I was forced to change / I’m not sure who to thank / Yeah I was such a waste / I’ll never be the same…”
Lastly, “Elvis” is another favorite with its driving bass line and guitar hook, Margin singing along with sweetly hopeful lyrics: “Truth be told / I want to grow old with you / ‘Cause what we’ve got / Is all that I want it’s true…” Though the production of their overall album is quite slick and polished, it doesn’t take away from the honesty of Margin’s singing and his band members earnest playing.
At Gov Ball, they’ll be playing on Saturday, June 8th at 12:45 pm. If anyone is going, make sure to check them out! And just to further persuade you, here’s footage from a recent live performance.
By Teta Alim